Today: July 18, 2024

La La Land

From its seven Oscar, and then six when it turned out Bonnie & Clyde had nearly robbed Moonlight, La La Land remained the true darling of this year’s awards season. Many sighted it was because Hollywood didn’t make musicals, or at least good ones any more. Others theorised that it was an antidote to an uncertain and terrifying political horizon. Whatever the reason, La La Land struck a cord and held it to become one of those films that everyone was talking about. As it arrives in homes, don’t expect that to change.

Because La La Land is a dream of a film. Almost literally. At times writer director Damien Chazelle intentionally detours into the realms of imagination and fantasy. Here is a film that, at least on the surface, wants to celebrate the romanticism of making it in Hollywood, of following your dreams, no matter the cost, and of falling in love but, in a place as fake and cutthroat as Hollywood, at what cost?

For many, the thought of a musical is not an appealing one. All that spontaneous bursting into song to express how the character is feeling, it’s the exact opposite of the screenwriting mantra, show don’t tell. It’s normally reserved for Disney animations these days. From the outset La La Land riffs on this, occupants of an LA traffic jam all leaping out of their cars into a wonderfully choreographed and catchy number. If you’re not into this sort of thing it’s unlikely to sell you quickly. But this is Chazelle leading you up the on-ramp only to have you accelerating towards the freeway at top speed. Because the immediate aftermath of the scene, which involves Ryan Gosling’s typically laconic cool jazz musician and Emma Stone’s Bambi eyed aspiring actress, shows that behind every dream sequence, musical number and perfect swoon is a middle finger just waiting to be given. It’s a comic device that perfectly captures what the film is striving for.

With the huge success of his exhaustingly brilliant Whiplash Chazelle seems to have a penchant for infusing music into the very fabric of his films. After La La Land’s opening number the film never really stops with the music, but what it does so well is gradually and subtly make you forget it is in fact a musical. So the toe-tapping show tunes don’t last much beyond the opening few numbers before a recurring theme song and wistful jazz score takeover. And, as it’s taking over, you begin to fall deeper and deeper into La La Land’s charms.

One minute Chazelle can be dazzling us with the Californian sunshine, the next he can be painting a star spangled sky before taking us deep into LA’s seedier parts of jazz bars and casting studios. It works because it both imagines, portrays and destroys the idea of the city of dreams. In the same month that David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive gets a restored Blu-ray release La La Land is very much a film that delves into the prospect of making it in Hollywood but turns it into a dream fantasy, only tinged with cynicism, to Lynch’s nightmarish Hollywood hell.

Amid all the song and dance is the chemistry between Gosling and Stone. It’s been tried and tested, the pair having sizzled in Crazy Stupid Love and been one of the few memorable things in Gangster Squad. Gosling is essentially playing a role he has done so in numerous other films, that laid back, old school Hollywood iconic cool in the mould of Steve McQueen. He’s a little bit damaged, a little bit cocky and watching him saunter around LA never fails to bring a smile to your face. Stone meanwhile, who won the Best Actress Oscar, brings a wonderful sense of naive, jaded, young starlet to the film. Is it an Oscar winning performance? No, but it once again proves why Stone is one of the most watchable, and likely long lasting, actresses of the current generation.

La La Land is pure cinematic magic, a visual and audio delight that will have you swooning with sheer, dreamy happiness before dabbing away a tear with a bumping back to reality.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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